Why realistic graphics matters to games

Nicolii
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Nicolii polycounter lvl 6
So I wrote a blog post as to why realistic graphics are important to games. Pick it apart and let me know what you think.

https://elicitedresponse.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/games-and-graphics/


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  • Stinger88
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    Stinger88 interpolator
    Hmmm. Sorry, Don't agree. Your title should probably be something like "why realistic graphics are important to realistic games"

    I've had emotional connections with all manner of abstract pixels messes. Being an old gamer I think its easier to appreciate games without the need for a realistic experience. A game really doesn't need to be realistic to allow an emotional connection. Hell, some games didn't even need graphics, text based adventures (Zork, etc)

    I think you are forgetting a huge factor in many games that don't rely on realism, and that is the players imagination. As a book help suggest scenarios for a reader, games can help trigger players imaginations and sometimes allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps is far better than dictating a scene in hyper realism.

    Sorry, I just feel your statement is a sweeping generalisation and that games need to be a realistic visual experience. Which isn't true at all. My 2 cents.
  • Nicolii
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    Nicolii polycounter lvl 6
    I didn't intend to give the sweeping generalisation to all games, making the need for the example of Inside. I'm (hopefully) stating that realistic graphics are important to eliciting certain emotions with certain games as all games aren't aiming for photo-realism. An example that I think I should have used is Metro 2033. The experience of that game is heavily reliant on the thick atmosphere of the realistic environments that would have a lot more trouble doing so in a stylistic manner.

    It's also why I began saying that games are an art, designed for emotions, not just to be fun.

    Also why I ended with this:
    "Graphics add to the experience of gameplay, just as narrative does, making for a better more cohesive product. Saying that graphics are meaningless in games is to the detriment of games, and the progress they have made as an art-form."

    What led you to think that I was talking about all games?

  • Stinger88
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    Stinger88 interpolator
    Because, no where do you state you are talking about a specific genre or game type. You just say "Games".

    "Graphics add to the experience of gameplay"

    Graphics don't add to gameplay at all in many games. They add to the experience, but not the gameplay.

    For me graphics are not important in a lot of games. They help yes, and if a game is trying to be realistic then good graphics really add to the experience. But realism its never essential. Gameplay is by far the most important thing in most games, in some cases narrative depending on the genre.

    "If graphics did not matter to the game, you should be able to play this game with plain colourless boxes and plain colourless environments to achieve the same end goal of enjoying the game in the same way, and to that I would say, is simply impossible"

    I can tell you now that I've played tech demos and "grey boxed" games and had as much fun as I would if the boxes were realistic characters.

    Sorry if I sound argumentative but i'm dead against anything that states "Games need good graphics", which is kinda what i'm getting from this. If you are talking about a certain type of game you should say so, which is why I suggested the title change.
  • JordanN
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    JordanN interpolator
    A highly detailed environment can express more story than one with no detail, 
    I disagree with this statement completely.

    I had made a thread 2 months ago where I put all my story telling into PS1 visuals. I had no problems translating all my ideas using only very few polygons. In fact, it was quite the opposite. 

    The less time I spent focusing on tech details, the more I was able to come up with assets and piece them together in creating an environment. 

    I know people disagreed with me but I still believe in this statement. I did not see a difference between something that has to look photorealistic, and my idea of working with fewer polygons. 

    The artstyle of making each scene was the most important. 


  • Elithenia
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    Elithenia polycounter
    I have to agree with @Stinger88 . A very limited amount of my favourite games, that I keep going back to, have realistic graphics. Most of the time I find that the realistic graphics pull me out of the gameplay, and more pull me towards appreciating the beauty of the game. However just because a game is realistic doesn't mean that the game itself is a good game.

    I sometimes feel that if a game is realistic, it can take away from the immersion into the game. Because of uncanny valley, because of me wanting to explore the beauty etc etc... However a pixel game, or a 2d side scrolling game, or a greybox game as Stinger mentioned, can get me into the game a lot more because of how the gameplay is the key to a fun game. 

    A lot of games that employ 'good graphics' have started out as a greybox environment, and have worked just fine, with lots of fun to play. It is not impossible. 
    What you are saying, that it is impossible, is an opinion, and not a fact. 
    "Graphics add to the experience of gameplay, just as narrative does, making for a better more cohesive product. Saying that graphics are meaningless in games is to the detriment of games, and the progress they have made as an art-form."
    This has me thinking that you are refuting your title. 
    Graphics CAN add to the game. But it is not gameplay. 
    Narrative can add to great gameplay. 

    Having realistic graphics can help if the game is trying to be a realistic game, but then there's a lot more that needs to go in there as well. realistic physics, realistic movements, realistic collisions etc. Art, in that respect, is just a vehicle to make it feel more realistic and to help immersion into the realism of the game. Not the gameplay in itself... 
  • Nicolii
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    Nicolii polycounter lvl 6
    In response to @Stinger88

    Because, no where do you state you are talking about a specific genre or game type. You just say "Games".
    That's because I don't think I need to talk about a specific genre or game type. I'm talking about the emotion the developer wants to elicit from the player and that is a broad range of applicable games, almost every game that isn't purely mechanically focused I would say.

    Graphics don't add to gameplay at all in many games. They add to the experience, but not the gameplay.
    Perhaps I should say Graphics add to the experience with gameplay?... That somehow sounds cumbersome, I'll think of a better way to word it.

    I'm not also saying that photo-real graphics are important to every game, again, it's what to developer wants you to feel as a player, I'm simply saying that photo-realism is a powerful and essential means to doing so if the developer choices to do so and applies it correctly.

    I can tell you now that I've played tech demos and "grey boxed" games and had as much fun as I would if the boxes were realistic characters.
    That may be true, but I am not isolating to experience of playing a game to only be the experience of having fun. As all games are not about having fun, I didn't have fun playing This War of Mine, but I certainly enjoyed to experience of it.

    You don't need to worry, I'm taking it as feedback. I'm not saying games 'need' good graphics. I am saying photo-realism is an essential tool to achieve a goal of eliciting emotion. I was hoping that I made emotion the clear factor, and not fun, I may need to rework it to make it more clear.

    Thank you for the response.



  • Nicolii
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    Nicolii polycounter lvl 6
    In response to @JordanN

    I had made a thread 2 months ago where I put all my story telling into PS1 visuals. I had no problems translating all my ideas using only very few polygons. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

    That may be your chosen art style but by choosing that art style you were sacrificing narrative in the finer details, your gun has less history conveyed than a more detailed one can have.

    Let's take this to the extreme with your shotgun asset there. Lets remove all texture from it and make it black to represent the dominant colour to better identify the gun than a neutral grey.

    Yes it's still a gun, but it has to history, no story. There are no scratches to convey the means of which to owner (or previous owners) treated that. There is no dirt, to grime, no oils to convey the upkeep of it, or the locality of which it has been kept.

    As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and the details can unleash a story never written for but has still been conveyed.

    That is the purpose of "A highly detailed environment can express more story than one with no detail"

    Again, my post is about emotion, not just fun.

    Thank you for the response.
  • Nicolii
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    Nicolii polycounter lvl 6
    In response to @Elithenia

    However just because a game is realistic doesn't mean that the game itself is a good game.
    I am not stating that a realistically rendered game is a good game.

    ...can get me into the game a lot more because of how the gameplay is the key to a fun game.
    Again I will state that I am not talking about fun, fun is not mentioned once in my post as it is not essential to having a good experience.

    It is not impossible.
    What you are saying, that it is impossible, is an opinion, and not a fact.
    For the example I have given it is that Inside is a game about eliciting an emotional response from the player, if Inside had not been crafted in the way it visually had been, and instead with simple graphics and grey boxes it would have been nigh on impossible, or indeed impossible to get that same emotional response.

    This has me thinking that you are refuting your title.
    My title is "Why Realistic Graphics are Important to Games", not why they are essential. I don't see a conflict here.

    Having realistic graphics can help if the game is trying to be a realistic game
    You don't need a realistic game for photo-realism to elicit certain emotional responses that would be difficult in a more simple stylistic manner. Again my post is about emotion, not fun.

    Thank you for the response.



  • slipsius
    Bit click-baity. I think you need to make it clear what you mean by "realistic graphics". I assume there's a difference between realistic and realism. 

    But even if you did that, I still wouldn't agree. Minecraft is in no way realistic, but it still commands emotions of its player base. Fear from the sounds of a nearby enemy. Joy from seeing your finished creation of blocks. Anger when someone blows up said creation. 

    Also, as you say throughout your article, games are art. Art is subjective and what one person finds realistic, or even just pleasing, another will not. Just because a game does not trigger emotions in you, doesn't mean it wont in someone else. 

    " I am saying photo-realism is an essential tool to achieve a goal of eliciting emotion." - Ori and the Blind Forest is in no way photo realism, but it's the number one game as of late that has got me emotional. 


  • Elithenia
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    Elithenia polycounter
    There's a lot of games out there that has elicited a lot of emotions from the player base, and not having realistic graphics (as mentioned above, minecraft is one of them).
    This war of mine has a very sketchy illustration theme, realistic, but not photo-realistic..... 
  • Nicolii
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    Nicolii polycounter lvl 6
    Elithenia said:
    There's a lot of games out there that has elicited a lot of emotions from the player base, and not having realistic graphics
    I grant that, and I have not discounted that either. I am not at any point taking anything away from stylistic artstyles, I am saying that photo-realism serves and purpose and I think that people who say otherwise are wrong. If you can explain to me to photo-realism serves no purpose at all then I'll concede my point, but I think it does (for now).
  • pior
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    pior insane polycounter
    You are confusing "realistic" with "high fidelity" (or at the very least not taking enough time to clearly distinguish the two), and because of that the sunset example falls apart and even contradicts the whole point being argued for.

    Also quoting your own writing in between paragraphs as if you were interviewing someone is probably debatable.

    Overall I found the article somewhat hard to follow, probably because I don't see anything wrong with the statement "realistic graphics are not needed for a game", which is not the same thing as saying that there are absolutely no uses for them.

  • slipsius
    Your point would be better made if you said graphics matter. Not just realistic graphics. I think "realistic" is what everyone's having a problem with.
  • JordanN
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    JordanN interpolator
    It's a bit hard to pinpoint when do graphics play a role in emotion. 

    On one hand, there was the case during the 1990s when games like Mortal Kombat and Doom were almost deemed a public scare because of how detailed the violence had gotten. But you also had another game, Night Trap, which was even more real but also elicited the same response "too graphic for the public".

    Even with the pixelated sprites vs the live-action footage, what they have in common is how convincing they were at describing violence. 

    Someone could make a low poly game about violence and still scare people if they took the time to depict the actual horrors that goes into mutilating and killing people. Thrill Kill is actually an example of this, going as far as being rated AO even though a game like Grand Theft Auto 5 is more realistic but considered tamer by the ESRB. 

  • Nicolii
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    Nicolii polycounter lvl 6
    In response to @slipsius

    Bit click-baity.
    Yeah I realised this but could not think of a title that would convey the content clearly in a cleaver way. Will gladly take suggestions.

    I think you need to make it clear what you mean by "realistic graphics". I assume there's a difference between realistic and realism.
    This may be me getting tired at the end of the day, but I am having difficulty understanding what you mean by this.

    But even if you did that, I still wouldn't agree. Minecraft is in no way realistic, but it still commands emotions of its player base. Fear from the sounds of a nearby enemy. Joy from seeing your finished creation of blocks. Anger when someone blows up said creation.
    Yes this is true, but it's cartoonish styled skeletons can't convey horror through design (unless perhaps for 3 year olds) like a more realistically rendered one with gangrene flesh falling off the bone, sunken and hollow eyes with inner tissue visble with.

    Also, as you say throughout your article, games are art. Art is subjective and what one person finds realistic, or even just pleasing, another will not. Just because a game does not trigger emotions in you, doesn't mean it wont in someone else.
    I can concede this point, but that doesn't discount the usefulness of realism for the whole.

    " I am saying photo-realism is an essential tool to achieve a goal of eliciting emotion." - Ori and the Blind Forest is in no way photo realism, but it's the number one game as of late that has got me emotional.
    And many stylistic games have done the same with me. Just the same way that a sculpt tool is essential for sculpting it is not the only essential tool, as is realistic graphics is with games.



  • Elithenia
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    Elithenia polycounter
    slipsius said:
    Your point would be better made if you said graphics matter. Not just realistic graphics. I think "realistic" is what everyone's having a problem with.
    I think it is a lot that it is that it isn't defined... if it is realistic, or realism, or high fidelity. 
    And that it is just 'games' and not what kind of games that is meant. 'Games' in general is quite a wide range of different styles, graphical requirements, emotions, gameplay etc. 

    Nicolii said:
    I grant that, and I have not discounted that either. I am not at any point taking anything away from stylistic artstyles, I am saying that photo-realism serves and purpose and I think that people who say otherwise are wrong. If you can explain to me to photo-realism serves no purpose at all then I'll concede my point, but I think it does (for now).
    None of us have said that photo-realism doesn't serve a purpose. I think what we're having problem with is the fact that we don't know what you mean when you say 'realistic' graphics. As what Slipsius said. And for what kind of 'games' that you're referring to. 

  • slipsius
    Here's how I see the difference. Others will agree or disagree. It's going to be different for each person. 

    "Realistic" = photo-real. You try your best to have high fidelity graphics that are as close to real life as possible.  A good example is Battlefield 1. 


    "Realism" = Making the level look and feel as if it could be a real place, despite the art direction. Going back to Ori and the Blind Forest. It's stylized, but it's also believable. Lush forests. Water. You can believe it's a real place, without it look like real life. 


  • Nicolii
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    Nicolii polycounter lvl 6
    slipsius said:
    Here's how I see the difference. Others will agree or disagree. It's going to be different for each person. 

    "Realistic" = photo-real. You try your best to have high fidelity graphics that are as close to real life as possible.  A good example is Battlefield 1.

    "Realism" = Making the level look and feel as if it could be a real place, despite the art direction. Going back to Ori and the Blind Forest. It's stylized, but it's also believable. Lush forests. Water. You can believe it's a real place, without it look like real life.
    Okay this is a communication problem. As I'm communicating as a means of short handing photo-realistic and photo-realism, which are the same things essentially. You use photo-realistic techniques and practices to achieve photo-realism. You can see my reasoning to its interchangeability there (hopefully).

    I will come back tomorrow into this discussion when I've had sleep and this text editor is no longer filled with red squiggly lines because of my temporary inability to type properly.

    For now, thank you all for you feedback. I shall return!
  • Justin Meisse
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    Justin Meisse polycounter lvl 14
    "In an example of Half-Life 2, try playing through HL2 with the same emotional connection as one does to Alyx and Dog if they were represented as a mere triangle. Now tell me that one would have the same experience if that were the case, where the world was represented in graphics capable on a PC from ’92. One would not, could not, have the same connection to the characters, to the world."

    I'm sure a lot of people would agree: the top scenario had waaaaaaaaay more emotional impact than the bottom.
  • Justin Meisse
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    Justin Meisse polycounter lvl 14
    I can't edit my post for some reason! I was going to add that I only use that pic from Undertale because I made a bad choice and it hit me so hard I had to walk away from the game, I'm sure there's even more feels later on since there's so many "at what point did you cry in Undertale?" threads out there.
  • [Deleted User]
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    [Deleted User] insane polycounter
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  • Amsterdam Hilton Hotel
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    Amsterdam Hilton Hotel polycount lvl 666
    I think you could make a lot of easy gains in the editing department
    15ish "One does"  I would scrub that from your vernacular pronto.  
    This is a great example, watch out for repetitive phrasing.

    Some other things that jump out:

    A person being a boot, car, hat is still considered a person in the game of Monopoly, that being a game in which having a human model would not add to the experience of the game.
    Your editing instinct should tingle anytime you see a phrase like "that being a game in which." It's stilted, nobody talks like that. Read it aloud.


    One would not, could not, have the same connection to the characters, to the world.
    Another example, pick the verb and noun you actually mean. Don't waffle back and forth with "would not, COULD not," it sounds self-indulgent. People roll their eyes or get bored if you talk that way in a conversation


    That statement could not be anymore false, graphics may not add anything to the ‘gameplay’ per se, but to say that they do nothing to improve the quality of the game as a whole is a horrible misjudement of how visuals matter to the medium.
    This one I'm just going to rewrite:

    "Graphics add to the overall quality of the game even when they don't affect gameplay."

    Shorten, cut, simplify
  • Joopson
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    Nicolii said:
    As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and the details can unleash a story never written for but has still been conveyed.
    That is the purpose of "A highly detailed environment can express more story than one with no detail"

    So, if you said "A highly detailed environment can express more story than one with no detail" I'd agree in most cases. But when I hear detail I don't think photorealistic. I think of thoughtful worldbuilding. Which you can do with any art style. There are always ways to add detail to the world. And a million different sorts of detail, outside of photorealistic detail.
  • sacboi
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    sacboi polycounter

    slipsius said:

    "Realism" = Making the level look and feel as if it could be a real place, despite the art direction. Going back to Ori and the Blind Forest. It's stylized, but it's also believable. Lush forests. Water. You can believe it's a real place, without it look like real life.

    I'd go even further and possibly denote as an "Immersive" descriptor.   

  • kanga
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    kanga interpolator
    I disagree. I read most of your article but not all of it, because the pros is pretty bumpy and fairly difficult to read.  I couldn't really find anything to prove your statement apart from unsupported personal opinions. This isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't do anything for the strength of your argument.

    Nicolii said:
    ,.....realistic graphics are important to games.,.....

    Overwatch is a perfect example of effective stylized art. The art direction uses realism as a reference, but it seems not as a restriction.

    Just my 2 bob.
  • heartlessph1l
    Imo it's easy to make a mess when trying to go too realistic. Uncanny valley, very charged scene, bad visual clarity, etc.
    I prefer a solid artistic direction and a coherent visual style then juste going fully photoreal.

    Or if you wanna go photoreal, use scanned assets like in Battlefront! This game looked so good.
  • Mark Dygert
    One tends to get tired of reading "one wants..." "one might..." "one can..." "one would". Are you trying to do a comedic impression of a 19th century psychologist? One can only imagine, one with a monocle and a fake mustache.

    I can raise a few pages of artistic disagreement as well as a page and a half of technical reasons why it can make sense to go with a stylistic approach over a realistic approach but honestly I think it would fall on deaf ears. It's one of those debates that people pick their camp and tend to stick to it.
  • Tekoppar
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    Tekoppar polycounter lvl 8
    Mark I'm really interested in the technical reasons to go for a stylistic approach over a realistic one, so could you pretty please write them? Might even make a good addition for the wiki.
  • Elithenia
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    Elithenia polycounter
    I would be interested in that too :) I don't think it would fall on deaf ear for all of us in the thread, however it might as a response to the article. 
    I think it would be very interesting from both the artistic and technical standpoint :)
  • knacki
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    knacki polycounter lvl 6
    For me personally, it's all about being believable.
    Realistic or not.
    Story, style, animation, music & sound have to build a unit.
    Once this fit, it can achieve anything.
    Doesn't matter if film or game.

    This said, the commenter you referring to is right, you are wrong. B)
    Well, sorry. But I really do think that you missed the point.


    If you see realistic as anything more than a few pixels - well than I am with you.
  • Joopson
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    Joopson Polycount Sponsor
    ....Am I the only one who liked the "one would" "one must" "one could" stuff?
  • Michael Knubben
    It's advice most writers get at some point: don't write as if you're a floating opinion-less spirit, take ownership unless you're writing truly objective facts.
  • R3D
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    R3D greentooth
    Joopson said:
    ....Am I the only one who liked the "one would" "one must" "one could" stuff?
    Basic highschool level essay writing, can't use first person, so one uses the third to make it sound like an absolute.
  • Shrike
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    Shrike greentooth

    I'm sure a lot of people would agree: the top scenario had waaaaaaaaay more emotional impact than the bottom.

    'pay respects image'

    Sure, but that was not due to the graphics but due the character building beforehand. There are other COD characters that were really missed when they died. That guy hardly had a role, you could not save him from dying to a bomb he planted, but there was a weak connection and right at the start of the game. 

    The most shocking and strongly impactful game ive played was Vampires Dawn, a RPG maker game, granted that was a long time ago but the graphics were very simplistic even then. The minimalism and taking away of anything that is not explicitly needed really sells strong concepts and leaves room for interpretation, much like a book or a story would. 


  • Bruno Afonseca
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    Bruno Afonseca Polycount Sponsor
    This might be relevant to the subject, great talk: 
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